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Easter/Passover Core Workout

Here’s a sampler core workout to round out your Easter and/or Passover festivities. This routine incorporates a fair amount of stretching, too — something that is important to do regularly to counter the tightening action of the core work (and don’t miss the “egg” pose described below, especially today). It’s best to do these in a gym on a soft surface or yoga mat, but many can be done anywhere. Feel free to adapt these based on your body’s needs/abilities/location (e.g. use a basketball if you don’t have a physioball). And don’t forget to do a gentle warm up first.

Part 1. Foam roller

This piece of foam technology is your friend, though it may not always feel that way. Rolling on it is the closest you can get to giving yourself a deep massage. Use it regularly and you’ll be addicted. High-density foam provides the deepest massage, but you might want to start with a softer foam if you’re new to it.

  • Roller perpendicular to spine:
    • Roll up and down back. Cover whole spine, neck to sacrum, with emphasis on shoulder blades. Clasp hands in front of chest with elbows straight and raise/lower hands in opposite direction to the roller.
  • Roller parallel with spine:
    • (1) Roll side to side focusing on area around shoulder blades.
    • (2) Lie still on the roller holding arms out to the side, elbows at 90 degrees. Let your arms sink towards the ground, keeping wrist to elbow parallel to ground. Relax bend in elbows so that you don’t pinch shoulder blades together.
  • Lower ab work on roller
    • Set up: Lie on roller, parallel with spine, legs up with knees at 90 degrees, hands or elbows on ground for stability. Key to this is to press lower back FLAT during exercises with abs contracted. Imagine belly button is trying to push through your body to touch the roller.
      • (1) Bicycle your legs slowly for ~30 seconds.
      • (2) Point legs straight up and slowly lower heels down toward the ground keeping legs near-straight, knees slightly bent. Don’t arch your lower back! Do 12 reps, 2 sets.
  • Foam rolling on legs
    • Slowly roll up and down side of legs (IT band), quads, hip flexors, pelvis, calves. Go extra slow over painful spots, breath deep!

Part 2. Physio Ball

Another piece of essential technology for core training is the physioball. Here are some essential movements to do:

  • Dead bug
    • Lie on back with legs straight up, knees slightly bent. Rest ball on shins with hands. Keep ball in place there while lowering opposite arm & leg slowly to the ground and then back up to ball. Key is to keep lower back flat: think about pushing the lower back hard towards the ground, that will engage the correct core muscles needed to stabilize your lower back. Do 10-15 reps total.
  • Arm to leg ball transfers
    • Same starting position as dead bug but hold ball in between shins. Lower legs towards ground slowly till ball touches ground. Then bring legs back up and grab the ball out of your legs with hands when legs are pointing towards ceiling. Raise arms overhead until ball touches ground.
  • Child pose on ball.
    • Same great yoga pose but do it on top of the ball, stabilizing yourself with hands on the ground. Breath into your abdomen and get a deep lower back stretch here.
  • Balance on all fours on top of the ball
    • Only contacts with the ball should be your hands, knees, shins. Play around with your balance until it feels comfortable. Keep core strong during this. If too difficult: do this close to a wall and touch wall with hand for stability. If too easy: try kneeling on ball so that only your knees and shins are touching ball and arms are held straight out to your sides (like a tightrope walker). If still too easy: try standing on ball (advanced users only!).
  • Bridge twists with 5lb weight
    • Get a 5lb dumbbell and lean back on physioball with feet on floor and knees bent at 90 degrees straight over your feet. Keeping your butt up high and holding weight with both hands, arms straight in front of chest, slowly rotate your whole upper body 90 degrees to the left, till your upper left arm touches the ball. Then slowly roll to the other side, till upper right arm is touching the ball. Keep arms straight throughout the whole move and (very important) KEEP YOUR BUTT HIGH — no sagging!
  • Side crunches on ball
    • Place the ball near a wall or mirror so that you can sit on top of the ball facing the wall/mirror with feet touching the wall near the floor, knees near straight. Move your butt down off the very top of the ball so that your sacrum is touching ball. Twist your whole body 90 degrees to left side, feet still touching wall, letting knee of right leg bend slightly. Touch your right hand to your right ear with elbow pointing toward wall/mirror and slowly lower your upper body to the left over the ball until your torso is parallel with the floor (or deeper if you want). Then raise it slowly back up to starting position. Do 15 reps per side.
  • Plank on the ball
    • Assume the plank position with elbows on top of the physioball: Clasp your hands together and put elbows on top of the ball, slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Feet on floor behind you, knees locked straight. Hold this position statically for 30-60s. Contract your abs and glutes. To make it easier: Bring elbows toward body; to make it harder: move elbows away from body and try lifting a leg (keeping ball steady).

Part 3. Extras

  • Pointer dog
    • On hands and knees with hands directly below shoulder, knees directly below hips. With upper body super steady, raise your right arm and left leg so that they are straight and parallel with floor. Hold for a 5 count then touch right elbow and left knee together contracting abs strongly, holding for a 3 count. Do 10 reps. Do other side too.
  • Bicycle abs with medicine ball
    • Grab a 5lb medicine ball and sit on a mat balancing on your tail bone. Cycle your legs out and back like your bicycling. Holding ball in right hand, pass it underneath right knee when knee is bent, and catch ball in left hand. Pass it back to the right hand under left knee when left knee is bent. Do 20 reps. Can also be done with a light dumbell if you don’t have a medicine ball. Try an 8-10lb ball for more challenge!
  • Push-ups with rolling medicine ball
    • Start in push-up position with a medicine ball under your right hand (weight of the ball doesn’t matter here). Do a push-up and at the end of the “push” (when your arms are near straight), roll the ball with your right hand over to your left hand. Do a push-up with ball under left hand and roll it back to the right hand. Keep body straight as a surfboard throughout. Do 10-20 reps.
  • Falling practice
    • Kneel with both knees on a mat (or cushy carpet or grass/turf) with plenty of space in front of you. Keeping your upper body as straight as possible and arms out straight in front of you, slowly let upper body fall towards ground. Catch yourself with your arms to break your fall. This can be tricky at first. To lessen the impact you can bend forward at the waist a little so you have a shorter distance to fall. For more challenge, see how straight you can keep your body (think: straight line from knees to shoulders).
  • Hanging leg lifts
    • Do this while hanging from a pull-up bar or using using gym equipment that allows you support your body on your elbows with legs dangling below you, raise your knees toward your chest with knees bent at 90 degrees. Slowly lower back down. Do some straight and throw some twists to the side alternating right/left.  For more challenge, trying straightening legs in front of you after knees are at their high point. Hold that position for a few seconds, then bend knees back to 90 degrees and lower legs down. A similar move can also be performed in a sturdy chair with good arm rests.

Part 4. Stretches

It’s important to stretch out the major muscle groups that connect to the pelvis and spine. When they get tight, they can pull you out of alignment, causing back pain and inefficient posture. Here some good ones to do.

Important: NEVER stretch to the point of pain! Go to the point of tightness and hold it at least 30 seconds. Breath deeply with nice slooooow exhale.

  • Child pose
    • The standard yoga pose that’s good to incorporate in between exercises in your core routine. It feels particularly good after doing back-intensive work (like bridge pose or the bridge twists above). On the ground, knees bent underneath you, butt on heels with knees pointing straight forward or out to the side (which ever you prefer). Bend upper body over your knees and breath deeply using abdomen. Let the expansion of your abdomen stretch out your lower back. Shift your weight to the left or right if desired.
  • Quad stretch
    • Stand straight, bend right leg behind you and grab right foot with right hand. Try to point knee straight down toward foor. Rotate hips to intensify the stretch.
  • Hamstring stretch
    • While standing, straighten right leg with heel on floor a few feet in front of you, left leg slightly bent. Lean over right leg by bending from the waist. Go until you feel tightness (you might not have to go very far, but that’s not the point). Hold it there at least 30s. Alternatively (and more effectively) you can stretch the hams using a yoga strap or pilates ring while lying on the ground, one leg pointed straight up perpendicular to ground and strap around foot with foot flexed. Do this with leg straight up or over to the right or left side.
  • Pigeon pose
    • This is a great stretch for your piriformis muscle — a major cause of back pain when it’s stressed out. It’s a classic yoga pose that is somewhat hard to describe. Basically, you are on the ground facing forward (torso perpendicular to ground) with one leg stretched out behind you and the other leg bent underneath you with the knee pointing out to the side and heel towards the hip of the stretched-back leg. Here’s a video demo of the pigeon pose.
  • Egg pose 🙂
    • ‘Egg’ is not an official yoga pose but my own name for a nice restorative vinyasa (a connected series of yoga poses) I like to do at the end of a session. It starts out like a standing child pose: balance on the balls of your feet with arms hugging around your bent knees. Hold that for 30s breathing deeply with abdomen. Come out if it by straightening your legs, letting arms and head hang down, grasping your elbows. Hand there for a while, shifting upper body side-to-side, nodding head ‘yes’ and shaking head ‘no’. Then slowly straighten up your upper body one vertebrae at a time, knees bent slightly. Finish by stretching out arms  and raising them from the sides of your body till your palms meet overhead. Bring them down into namaste.
  • Neck stretches:
    • (1) Standing up with shoulders relaxed, reach over your head with your right hand so that your fingers touch your left ear. Very gently pull your head to the right side until you feel a stretch on left side of neck. Let your your left shoulder drop towards the ground, creating space between left shoulder and head. Keep left arm pointing straignt down to ground and dorsiflex your wrist (bend it away from palm).  Hold for 30s. Do other side.
    • (2) With left palm on the back of your head slightly towards the right side, and right fingers touching left side of your chin, gently tilt your head to the left thinking about raising your chin towards the ceiling to the right. Use your hands to gently increase the stretch. Hold for 30s. Do both sides.
    • (3) Using foam roller, lie on the ground facing ceiling with roller across the back of your neck, perpedicular to spine. Let the weight of your head fall towards ground. Roll back and forth or side to side slightly.

Happy holidays, everyone, and good luck in your core training. I’ll try to update this post to add more visual aids or links to demo the above exercise. If you have any questions, feel free to ask via comment on this post.

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